File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_2001/bhaskar.0106, message 51

Subject: BHA: Re: Marx, Bhaskar and self-consciousness
Date: Sun, 24 Jun 2001 19:08:00 -0000

Hi everyone,

I would like to make a few comments on the recent absorbing posts on 
irrealism and realism in Marx and Bhaskar.

The issue of the 'epistemological break separating 'realist' mature Marx 
from 'irrealist' immature Marx seems to be a slant on the more traditional 
view which conceives this in terms of an absolute dichotomy between 
'scientific Marx' (the structuralist) and 'ideological Marx' (the humanist).

Either way, I agree with Ruth. I do not think this is a particularly
illuminating way of addressing the question of Marx’s philosophical

Nick writes:

'Before Marx pushed through his rounded critiqiue of political economy he 
too was operating on the irreal terrain of Hegel and Kant... From his own 
later perspective, Marx's early work, regardless of its critical stance and 
its ultimate orientation towards realism, is necessarily suffused by 
idealism and an irrealist humanism; his own early humanist
impulses were themselves shrouded in quasi-mystical language’… It was only 
as this process of critique issued in a positive alternative to idealist 
irrealism that Marx developed the epistemic break with irrealism.'

Now immature Marx did indeed tend to wrap his thoughts in mystical Hegelian 
language, though this tendency was not altogether absent from old Marx. 
Marx's early writings (see especially the 'Paris
Manuscripts') were clearly influenced in terms of their rhetorical form by 
Hegel's teleological philosophy of history. Thus Marx did famously declare 
that 'communism is the riddle of history solved', and he did refer to 
socialism as the 'destiny' of humankind, and to dialectic as the
'unconscious tool of history' in bringing about socialist revolution (Marx, 
1959: 101).

But admitting this much does not establish that 'young Marx' was
fundamentally irrealist in his philosophy (from 1843 onwards). Certainly,
there is no real evidence (other than the occasional mystical turn of
phrase) that the humanism of Marx's early writings is grasped as a unity of 
spirit or that he sees the unfolding of human consciousness as driving 
history towards its rational telos in the secular utopia. In fact, Marx's 
humanism is informed by a particular materialist understanding of humanity's 
species-being. This is human nature as an aspect of natural history, as 
absolutely dependent on the organic and inorganic worlds (Marx, 1959: 67), 
and as the bearer of distinctive causal powers – including labour, 
sociality, rationality, language and self.

This understanding of species-being as essentially rational, sociable and
co-operative was the basis of Marx's critique of alienation in the
'Manuscripts', from which there is no evidence of departure in his later
works postdating 'The German Ideology'. Here Marx argues that the
estrangement of species-life from social life (the essentially co-operative 
sociality of human nature) is manifested in the 'Robinsonades' of classical 
liberal theory, and in the social relationships of commodity production. 
These 'alienate species-life and individual life … turning the latter as an 
abstraction into the purpose of the former … incorporating private property 
into the very essence of man' (Marx, 1964:  127,148).

For Marx, then, it is the frustration of the needs and tendencies of 
socialised humanity in class-divided societies that ensure that communism is 
historically necessary, the 'riddle of history solved.' In substance, there 
is nothing remotely idealist about this humanism, even if the Hegelian form 
of the language deployed sometimes obscures this fact. Marx does not base 
his anthropology on any transcendent principle, such as 'universal 
unconditional love.'

Nor is Marx’s humanist philosophy essentially teleological, in the way often 
attributed to it. Young Marx does not claim that human history inevitably or 
necessarily terminates in communism, despite his claim that communism is the 
goal of history. On the contrary, in the Manuscripts, Marx explicitly 
disavows this interpretation, arguing that communism is historically 
necessary only in the sense of being the necessary precondition for a 
disalienated human existence:

'Communism is … hence the "actual" phase necessary for the next stage of 
human development in the process of human emancipation … but communism as 
such is not the goal of human development' (Marx, 1959: 101).

The only passage in the totality of Marx's writings where he claims 
unambiguously that socialism is historically inevitable is to be found in 
the Manifesto (i.e. the famous 'gravediggers' slogan). But it has always 
seemed to me that attributing teleologism to young Marx, on the basis of a 
slice of political rhetoric in an essentially propagandist pamphlet, is 
stretching it a wee tad!

I conclude from my own reading of Marx (young and old) that substantive
evidence linking him to irrealist humanism or idealist historical closure
(Hegel's closed totalities) is rather scant. Of course, this does not mean 
that young Marx was a critical realist or historical materialist or 
accomplished critic of capitalism. He did not manage the difficult trick of 
formulating Marxism before Marxism. But it does suggest that the young Marx 
– old Marx relation is better understood in terms of continuity and 
development than in terms of a radical break. I have argued at length 
elsewhere that Marx's naturalistic humanism (young Marx) and structural 
sociology (mature Marx) are not incompatible elements of his philosophy and 
social theory, but constitute a unified theoretical and analytical whole 
that is broadly consistent with critical realism (Creaven, 2000).

All of this, I think, sheds a little light on Mervyn’s contribution to the 
debate. Mervyn argues:

'I've been re-reading the early Marx, and it's striking that many of the
themes of 'From East to West' are already there.'

Mervyn's point is that 'early Marx' and 'late Bhaskar' share a common
commitment to the concept of a society in which 'the free development of
each is the condition of the free development of all.' I think he is right 
to argue this. He is also right to say that mature Marx never abandoned 'the 
Eden/Fall/ Eudaimonia dialectic' of his youth. Again, I think he is 
(uncontroversially) right to argue this. For Marx, in common with Bhaskar, 
'class society and capitalism’ alienate our essential human communality, and 
are historically necessary for us to achieve it in full self-consciousness.' 
So far so good.

But this is where the unity of young Marx and Bhaskar's 'From East to West' 
terminates. Marx's anthropology does not commit him to the view that 
communist society entails/depends on 'unconditional love' ('that people 
pervasively love and trust each other'). Instead it is rooted in the concept 
of species-being as bearer of core properties and powers (sociality, 
co-operation, self-consciousness, rationality). It is these properties which 
support the craving for egalitarianism, communalism and distributive justice 
that has energised social struggles against those power structures which 
frustrate them throughout human history. Our self-conscious capacity to 'put 
ourselves in the place of our fellows is mediated by our sociality and 
rationality, and this translates into the deep seated human desire 'to do 
good to all known others', to treat others as we would ourselves like to be 
treated. Further, because we are rationally self-conscious, we know that the 
emancipation of each of us is dependent on the emancipation of all, since 
reconstructed class societies always subordinate the many to the few.

What evidence is there that Marx bases his concept of communism on the
potential inherent in humanity for unconditional love? None at all, that I 
can see. But what of Mervyn's view that young Marx's dialectic of freedom is 
a secularised version of the religious idea of the Fall and eventual 
preordained reunification of humanity and God as spirit? (Mervyn, I hope 
this a fair interpretation of your view). Of course, Marx is for human 
emancipation, but this does not automatically gift his thought religious 
sensibilities or affiliations, despite his borrowing of the odd concept or 
metaphor from the religious sphere (such as notions of 'confession' and 
'forgiveness' and 'sin'). Nor does it commit him to historical teleology of 
the kinds characteristic of religious thought. If Mervyn's purpose in citing 
Marx's letter to Ruge is to show that early Marx (in common with late 
Bhaskar) holds the view that human emancipation can be achieved simply 
through self-knowledge of self-alienation, this strategy is not really 

Here Marx argues that the reform of consciousness depends on the rational
critique of mysticism in all its forms. This is an abiding theme of young 
Marx. But its meaning is ambiguous. Is Marx arguing that simply acquiring 
self-knowledge of alienation will liberate humanity, or is he saying that 
acquiring self-knowledge is the key to overcoming alienation because 'all 
else follows' once emancipatory philosophy has gripped the people. I would 
say that the latter interpretation is more plausible. Thus in 1843 Marx 
argued that 'the emancipation of the human being' will be accomplished by an 
alliance whose 'head … is philosophy, its heart … the proletariat', a 'class 
with radical chains' (Marx and Engels, 1975: 187).

This position is not Marxist. It is replete with elitism and dualism. But, 
nonetheless, even young Marx did not see human freedom as simply 'reform of 
consciousness' by means of demystifying alienation. Ideas had to be 
materialised in practical agency to become real in their social and cultural 
effects, and these ideas were themelves anchored in the material world to 
start with. Alienation was a material not spiritual phenomenon, rooted in 
the social relations of commodity production. The role of philosophy was not 
to legislate for worldly struggles. Already the gap between philosophy and 
the world is narrow:

'We do not confront the world in a doctrinaire way with a new principle:
Here is the truth, kneel down before it! We develop new principles for the 
world out of the world’s own principles. We do not say to the world: Cease 
your struggles, they are foolish; we will give you the true slogans of 
struggle. We merely show the world what it is really fighting for' 
(Marx,1975, letter to Ruge, CW 3: 144).



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